A parent campaigning for stronger sentencing laws for dangerous drivers has urged Chief Minister Andrew Barr to admit he was wrong in how he interpreted his petitions.
Canberra father Tom McLuckie, who launched ACTNowforsaferoads after his son Matthew was killed in a crash on Hindmarsh Avenue in May, previously submitted three petitions for change to the ACT Assembly.
Angered by Mr Barr’s response to his petitions, Mr McLuckie has called on the Chief Minister to correct the record.
“In the draft petitions we presented to the Attorney-General on 15 July, 2022, we were very clear we were requesting sentencing guidelines in relation to motor vehicle crimes, not mandatory sentencing,” he said.
“You said you had ‘irreconcilable differences in relation to the outcomes being sought through the petitions … so I acknowledge I have an in-principle objection and will never support mandatory sentencing or indeed a US-style approach to the appointment of judicial officers.
“I believe it is only fair and reasonable … that you publicly retract these statements and acknowledge that you were mistaken.”
Mr McLuckie said his petition called for the Assembly to review and consider sentencing guidelines in relation to “minimum sentencing guidelines to be applied to enforce appropriate penalty and deterrent to repeat offenders”.
He argued while the ACT already had sentencing guidelines to assist the courts when deciding punishments, he felt they were becoming “increasingly lenient in regard to vehicular homicides and reckless driving causing grievous bodily harm in the ACT”.
“A review and consideration of a legislative sentencing guideline does not, as has been accused, impact the autonomy of the judiciary, or restrict them in any way in determination of sentencing options afforded under the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005,” Mr McLuckie said.
“I would request you to publicly withdraw the objection to [the petition in question] as what you have implied is a total misrepresentation, is incorrect and ill-informed.
“Currently, I take it to be a deliberate act on your behalf to confuse the intent of our petitions.”
Among his petitions, Mr McLuckie also called for a review to bail which he felt was being “inappropriately awarded” to high-risk and repeat offenders.
“We wish for these bail decisions to be based on an assessment of the likelihood of reoffending and the risk to our community in a bail award,” he said.
“Our Attorney-General [Shane Rattenbury] alluded on 11 October that what is being proposed is that all bail awards should be prohibited. This is incorrect and a hysterical allegation.
“We are requesting a neutral position on some of our more serious offences – driving at or assaulting police, purposefully driving down the wrong side of a thoroughfare, failure to stop for police and aggravated motor vehicle and other aggravated offences including domestic violence – instead of an automatic award of bail that appears to be the case.”
Mr McLuckie also rejected Mr Barr’s suggestion he was calling for a US-style approach to the appointment of judicial officers.
He said a “separation of powers” between the executive, the government and the judiciary was crucial for justice to be balanced.
Mr McLuckie said this balance was not achieved given the current judiciary was interviewed and recommended by a panel which included the Attorney-General.
“This is not separation or independence from the government, and potentially has led to a ‘stacked’ judiciary,” he argued.
“This is why we believe a fully independent and transparent approach to the appointment of our judicial officers is required as per our petition.”
An ACT Government spokesperson said the Chief Minister received the letter from Mr McLuckie on 1 November, and would reply.
Region also contacted Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury’s office for comment, who said his heart went out “to all families grieving the senseless loss of a loved one due to road trauma.”
He said he would jointly respond to Mr McLuckie’s letter with the Chief Minister, as many issues raised fell into his portfolios.
Mr Rattenbury stressed road and community safety were both extremely important.
“The ACT remains a safe city with comparatively low crime rates and safe roads,” he said.
“ACT Policing’s recent focus on repeat offenders is welcome, and has highlighted the fact that the ACT has a small cohort of offenders that needs intensive intervention.”
Mr Rattenbury said the government was looking at reforms in the justice and community safety spaces, including reviewing bail and sentencing laws, exploring additional driving offences and penalties, exploring sentencing guidelines, and establishing its new Law and Sentencing Advisory Council, which he described as a “lasting and independent review mechanism”.
He said the government was also “investing heavily” in trying to break cycles of crime and imprisonment in order to build a safer community. These included the Drug and Alcohol Court, early intervention programs, housing and mental health support.
Mr Rattenbury also pointed to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recent report on judicial bias as proof the ACT’s judicial appointment process was “one of the most transparent and accountable” in the country.
“I take recommendations from an independent panel, of which I am not a member,” he said.
“I am keen to make sure that we continue to lead the way, and am exploring opportunities to be more explicit about the selection panel and process.”
Overall, Mr Rattenbury said he and Mr McLuckie were working towards a shared goal of “avoiding terrible tragedies” on our roads, however they had different ideas on how to get there.
“The areas where we disagree are mostly matters of detail, such as whether guideline sentences should be prescribed by the legislature and whether we should have a singular or ongoing review mechanism,” he said.
“It is also important to clarify that there is no such thing as an automatic grant of bail. The presumption in favour of bail for most offences recognises that by default everyone in our community has the right to be free. It is a presumption that can be displaced by presenting evidence about the risk posed by a particular individual.
“It is important that we trust our independent judiciary to assess the array of complex issues in any individual bail or sentencing decision, and to make non-political decisions in the interest of the community.”